Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Aircraft and Artisans
My father undoubtedly had a photograph to refresh his memory of Jones Field in Bonham, Texas in 1944.  This picture, painted in 1988, is a memoir of his flying days during World War II.  He was never sent overseas - thankfully for me! - but he trained as a bomber pilot with the Army Air Force, mostly in Texas.

Flying had always been his dream, but it took a war to make what his father called a "rich man's hobby" into a reality for Fulton Peay.  He grew up on stories of the "flying aces" of World War I and learned the details of every aircraft.  Flying did seem an impossible dream in the Depression of the 1930s - but then came the war.

Even before the United States entered WWII, Daddy was working at Vultee/Stinson/Crosley-Bendix/Philco-Bendix/Avco/Textron, as the aircraft plant on Vultee Boulevard was variously known.  He started out in the Blueprint Room, and, by the time I started to school, he was an 'engineering change analyst'.  (It seemed like I had to learn a new name for the company every school year, and his title was too long to fit on the blank for what your father did.)  He actually met and worked with some of the old 'barnstormers' and military fliers from between the wars.  

And he was absolutely dedicated to building a good airplane - or missile or outer tank for the first space shuttle.  (He and two other employees won an award from Lockheed for their work insuring the safety of their part of the job.)  My grandfather, who was a master mechanic, had drilled him in the importance of doing the job right.  Sometimes Daddy's job required him to count the rivets on a blueprint so they could order the proper number for each plane.  He counted every rivet on the tail of the C-130 TWICE.   We stayed very quiet at home on nights when he had been counting rivets.

Manufacturing aircraft is a roller-coaster business depending on contracts and a LOT of politics.  It remains a high tension industry, and he was in it for 44 years.  What bothered him most were the times when Management knew little or nothing about aircraft and liked it that way.  Once he suffered through several months of a supervisor who had no idea what the department really did or what contractual obligations they had.

Aircraft, like many other inventions, was too big a business to leave in the hands of inventors and artisans.  That's inevitable.  You cannot depend on your job for fulfillment or self-worth.  That's why Fulton Peay drew, painted, and wrote letters and reminiscences.  It's why I kept up painting and writing during my own career in insurance. - And it's why I'm trying to build a blog and a store to encourage everybody to create.

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